“Insomnia” Ken Craft

2 posts

Mining the Synergy of Opposites


Contrast. Nothing tells a story quite like it. Consider the juxtaposition of junk car parked next to new Porsche, of grandmother in her wheelchair posing with her 5-year-old granddaughter for pictures, of homeless man sleeping under cardboard against the smooth base of a financial-district skyscraper.

In poetry, contrast can work its magic, too. Past and future. Dream and reality. Invincibility and mortality.

The last works particularly well when examining the one childish outlook we’re least willing to give up—the notion that good times go on forever, that hope is an unsinkable ocean liner, that death comes calling for others with regularity but doesn’t even have us on its to-do list.

Let’s see it at work in three poems:


“Driving into Our New Lives”
Maria Mazziotti Gillan,

Years ago, driving across the mountains
in West Virginia, both of us are so young
we don’t know anything. We are twenty-eight
years old, our children sleeping in the back seat.
With your fresh Ph.D. in your suitcase, we head out
toward Kansas City. We’ve never been anywhere.
We decide to go the long way around
instead of driving due west.

Years ago, driving across mountains; your
hand resting on my knee, the radio playing the folk
music we love, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, or you
singing songs to keep the children entertained.
How could we know what is to come?

We are young. We think we’ll be healthy
and strong forever. We are certain we are invincible
because we love each other, because our children
are smart and beautiful, because we are heading

to a new place, because the stars
in the coal-black West Virginia sky are so thick,
they could be chunks of ice.
How could we know what is to come?


To steal a phrase from George Orwell, it has a “Such, Such Were the Days” feeling to it. Reading it, one senses how the speaker’s perspective has brought wisdom and sadness in equal measure: “How could we know what is to come? / We are young. We think we’ll be healthy / and strong forever.”

And all based on logical (to capital-R Romantic humans) reasons: love, smart and beautiful children, West Virginia stars, and a new home somewhere beyond the headlights.

I’ve used the contrast between happiness / security and some unknown reckoning myself. The alchemy works if you jigger it just right. First, from Lost Sherpa of Happiness, the perspective of innocence in the animal world:


“Sharp-Shinned Hawk & the Song Sparrow”
by Ken Craft

All spring, the punctured sky collapses blue
beneath the shrill knives of their call.
All day, shriek and talon, eye and hunger
from the heat of a red-black gullet.

They circle overhead, dive under liquid
evergreen, glide through currents of hardwood,
trunk and limb. Nestling, fledgling,
songbird—on ground or mid-flight—
leaving only an orphan feather for changeling.

And here I hear the song sparrow sing.
Here in the narrow interstice between stealth and wait.
Her three notes. Her cheerful trill. Her hesitation
at the wood’s held breath.
Then, song again.
To sun or cloud, maybe. Wind or mate.

She sings to the stillness of quiet’s dull edge.
She sings to not knowing that every joy
in life is answered, eventually.


As with the Gillan poem, there is no need to address the future, as it is implied. The future is a hawk in waiting. An indifferent hawk, blindly following instinct’s edicts, which somehow doubles the affront.

And here, from The Indifferent World, a similar scene, only more domestic:


by Ken Craft

Three is the loneliest number on a clock
when the night can’t save you.

No doubt it is the constellated tug,
a conspiracy of stars, the silent, primal

voice that whispers the uselessness,
that grinds greater gears,

that mocks the hubris of careful plans,
set alarms. Every blanketed life around you

sleeps safe and happy and secure
like nothing can touch them, like change

has made its exception, named it you,
and passed finally over the frosted roof.


Contrast. A young family driving toward a life of endless happiness in the West Virginia night. A song sparrow singing blithely while bill and talon bide their time from a branch high above. An insomniac convinced that both change and the future make exceptions.

Readers shake their heads saying, “No, no, no,” while wishing, “Yes, yes, yes” against their better judgment.

That wish is a big part of this brief, lovely journey we call life. I’m not sure where we’d be without it.





A Day in the Life (Non-Beatles Version)

5:30 a.m. Rise and, first and foremost, get water boiling for a carafe of freshly-ground coffee. The first cup is the best. Always. But that never stopped a man from nursing numbers two and three.

6:00 a.m. Before checking the old inbox, repeat three times: “I need some good news today.” Click. See Merriam-Webster’s word of the day only. Well, at least it’s not bad news.

6:30 a.m. Begin writing. The focus has moved in the direction of a YA novel, but some mornings I’m still in the mood to tinker with poems from MS #3, even though it’s out a-courting some nine lucky publishers. I Know, You Know, and Don’t Know (the names of Mark Twain’s dogs, and you can look it up) that, when the manuscript is accepted, these revisions will be allowed through the pre-publication gates, so it is a worthwhile habit.

7:30 a.m. Timeout for breakfast. For me, it’s been the same drill lately. The night before, I take out an 8-ounce Bell jar, put a few raisins and a dash of cinnamon on the bottom, fill halfway with organic Old-Fashioned Oatmeal, then another round of raisins and cinnamon, followed by the second half of oatmeal, topped off with a third and final touch of raisins and cinnamon. Then I slowly pour in unsweetened almond milk (you could use the milk of your choice) until all the oats are just covered. Put on the top, set in the fridge, and know that, by morning, it will be cool bliss. I follow up this cold oatmeal breakfast with a sliced orange.

8:00 a.m. More coffee, more writing. Some days it’s more deleting than writing. Some days I get to show off my addition skills. But more often I find myself tearing down yesterday’s progress, like a little bully boy at the beach who kicks other kids’ sandcastles down. The bully in me = eyes 24 hours wiser.

10:00 a.m. Take a reading break. Whatever the book of the moment may be (and right now, it’s Robert Bly’s News of the Universe), usually, or sometimes I go to the two “ongoing” reads when I’m in the mood for them: Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (and would we had a leader who read it and followed it — or was even capable of reading it and following it!) or the Complete Essays of Montaigne. By now, Marcus and Montaigne are my best buds, a sad commentary on males and their lack of close friends, at least compared to women. Still, in the time of Covid, this lone wolf stuff works to guys’ advantage, no?

11:00 a.m. If it’s not raining, I make a short drive to the beach, where I get out and walk four miles. At the beach, everything is normal and as it ever was: the surf, the sand, the seagulls and all the other S’s. They have no clue what “coronavirus” means. Nor do they care to. I can learn from cheek like that. I get a lot of “writing” done while I walk, too, thinking about that morning’s writing and where it went wrong or could go “righter.” As I logged many years at the ocean’s side as a boy growing up, looking out at the shards of sunlight on the seas’ surface brings me back, too. From your eyes, without being able to see your body, you forget that you’ve aged because, damn, it all looks the same, just like the days when you were young and limber.

11:30 a.m. How is it I never gave white sharks a second thought all those years I swam in the ocean? Now-a-summer, it seems that’s all I think of while in the briny, being vigilant, being ready to do battle with the weapons at hand (read: none). Of course, there’s no telling if I’ll even be able to swim at the beach this summer. It depends on the C-word (for once, not “cancer”) that the surf, sand, and seagulls have never heard of because they never listen, anyway.

12:30 p.m. Home for lunch. These days, not much, because you cannot eat as much after 50, for one, and because lunch is the least interesting of meals, anyway. For me, it’s typically a protein powder shake (vegetable source) with frozen organic strawberries and blueberries and a sliced apple thrown in. And please, don’t get on my case about the “organic” thing by calling me a “foodie” or a “yuppie” or whatever label people like to throw about in our label-addicted world. “Organic” predates the conventional, herbicide- and pesticide-laden fruits and veggies we eat now. “Organic” simply means REAL and CONVENTIONAL because it’s what your granny (or certainly great-granny) ate before all the chemical giants came to the fore in the era of WW II (in that sense, we are all Germany and Japan). So “organic” means “real food,” straight and simple, the way it was from time immemorial. Got a problem with that?

2:00 p.m. Practice on-line French. I took cinq ans of French back in the day but recall precious little (or, as they say in Paris, “petite presciouse“). They say that this, along with learning a musical instrument, is your best hedge against Alzheimer’s. I try to do at least 30 minutes of practice de français une jour.

2:30 p.m. I think to myself: “Remember when people worried about Alzheimer’s? Remember when “going viral” was a good thing?” Then I stop thinking for a bit, at least in that direction. Safer that way.

3:00 p.m. Time for a 30-minute nap, though it’s not a sacred animal for me or an assured thing or even an everyday thing, necessarily. It all depends on how the old insomnia thing was acting the night before.

3:30 p.m. Afternoon coffee, about as late as I dare. This is a small leftover cup from the morning, so nowhere near as good, but still good, and still better than snacking on processed food (again, thank you WW II era). I do this while going through another hour or two of reading the book of the moment.

5:30 p.m. Supper. I’d make a lousy European or cosmopolitan sort, as those folks like to eat at 9 at night or so. Still, there is good new for early suppers like me. The later in the evening you eat, the more likely it is that calories become fat while you sleep. Unless, of course, you’re blessed with one of those metabolisms. You know, the ones where adults can eat like 14-year-old boys and still look like healthy sticks.

6:30 p.m. On bad days, the nightly news, although this almost assuredly brings on a bout of indigestion. On good days, straight to some bubble-brained comedy. Of late, it’s been the six seasons of Schitt’s Creek and the six seasons of Community. Now it’s Netflix movies. This is all Covid-caused. Previous to this homebody-by-force stuff, I mostly loathed the movies and television shows. You know. Like Holden Caulfield did. After the word “phonies,” he probably said, “I hate the movies” more than anything else.

8:30 p.m. Last check for “good news” in the inbox from editors fighting it out for the privilege of publishing my poems (and what a joyful cartoon image THAT is!). Why do these people take so long? Why do I continue to dream that, some day, some editor will happen to read the work I submitted via Submittable on the same day it arrives and JUMP on it before any other editor can? Blame the last thing out of Pandora’s Box. Anyway, after this delusion, I repair to the kitchen to make tomorrow morning’s Overnight Oatmeal (see 7:30 a.m. entry for, ahem, recipe)

9:00 p.m. To bed with the book of the moment. This usually lasts all of 20 minutes before I drop the book on my face, making a literary divot on the bridge of my nose.

2:30 a.m. If I’m lucky to get this far, the first wake up. If I’m really lucky, I’ll get back to sleep within 20 minutes, but if it goes longer than that, it usually drags out for 90 minutes at least, forcing me to witness that most unseemly of hours: 3 to 4 o’clock, the hour that inspired me to write these poems:


Ken Craft

Three is the loneliest number on a clock
when the night can’t save you.

No doubt it is the constellated tug,
a conspiracy of stars, the silent, primal

voice that whispers the uselessness,
that grinds greater gears,

that mocks the hubris of careful plans,
set alarms. Every blanketed life around you

sleeps safe and happy and secure
like nothing can touch them, like change

has made its exception, named it you,
and passed finally over the frosted roof.



Ken Craft

In the dark
from over the water, a rooster
celebrates my insomnia


5:30 a.m. Wake and sing the simple ditty by some obscure minstrels from long ago: “Woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head.” And a fine déjà vu to you, too, using something as dated as a comb.

May you all have a great “day in the life” of your own, for today and many more.